Saturday, December 18, 2010

Making Art?

This is an old passage I found in a journal that describes precisely my feelings at present:

Making Art? April 3, 2010

Does my art need to tell a story?  Evoke an emotion?  Can it just be movement to music?  Can art just be a pretty picture?  In my art/dance I want to travel to a new world, my world... does that mean everything has to be different?  How do I show what I see or how I feel?

Creative pressure can make you freeze.

Maybe this is the suffering artist: You can go days without inspiration, your mind is in a barren desert and you carelessly count the tumbleweeds as you wait for a drop of water.  But when the water comes it isn't rain but a tidal wave of millions of un-thought thoughts that come so suddenly, so quickly, you miss them all together.  When the waves subside you find yourself waiting in that very same desert.  You are left wondering if you are even an artist at all.  At once everything seemed so important, so pressing and imminent, and suddenly... Nothing.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Spirit of the Classical Dance.

For my Dance History class, I was asked to read an article entitled "The Spirit of the Classical Dance" by Andre Levinson.  Though it was written in the early 1900s a lot of what was said resounded deeply with my present feelings about dance.  I have been searching for these words since I began my training in dance am I am excited to have finally come across them.  Firstly, I want to share a few lines that mirror my thoughts:
  • "And thus it is that when a dancer rises on her points, she breaks away from the exigencies of everyday life, and enters into an enchanted country- that she may thereby lose herself in the ideal."
  • "To discipline the body to this ideal function, to make a dancer of a graceful child, it is necessary to begin by dehumanizing him, or rather by overcoming the habits of ordinary life."
  • "The accomplished dancer is an artificial being, an instrument of precision and he is forced to undergo rigorous daily exercise to avoid lapsing into his original purely human state."
  • "...the ideal is the result of a disinterested will for perfection, and unquenchable thirst to surpass himself."
  • "You may ask whether  I am suggesting that the dancer is a machine?  But most certainly!- a machine for manufacturing beauty- if it is any way possible to conceive a machine that in itself is a living, breathing thing, susceptible of the most exquisite emotions."

Before I continue, I would encourage the reader to reconsider his or her definition of "dehumanizing" and "unhuman."  I argue, as is my interpretation, that Levinson is not insisting that dancers are robot slaves bound to their art, but instead humans that are greater than the typical person in their physical accomplishments and scopes for creating beauty.

As a dancer, I have at one point felt a connection with each of the above statements.  From my youth onward, I have always believed my life as a dancer to be separate and perhaps greater than my "normal" or "typical" life.  Living in a studio and on stage were both in and of themselves worlds separate from ones in which my peers were living.  I could imagine this feeling would be replicated by any of my friends as passionate and dedicated to their craft as I was to mine.  When I would get home from school, I would immediately go to dance.  When I was at school, I was thinking of dance and the world that my fellow dancers and I had created.  Whether this world was healthy or prosperous is a debate for a different time, but during those moments when I envisioned dancing I felt more alive and more present in my own body than I did sitting at my ordinary laminated school desk.  My drive to surpass myself is what did and does drive me to continue practicing the art of dance.  There is within my soul, as Levinson states, an "unquenchable thirst to surpass [myself]."  This thirst, this desire, gets me out of bed and to my class when it is cold and I am tired; it is the very thing that motivates me.

I have never considered, until this article, the marvel and the wondrous effects of the "turnout" and what it has taken to train my body to accomplish it.  I would consider myself to have an adequate turnout, but this turnout is so integrated into my body that it has taken considerable training and force to get my legs to return to a parallel state as is desired during the practice of yoga.  The positions of dance have become a part of who I am, so much so that I am identified as a dancer by passerby due to my stance and posture.  Because it is such a large and integral part of my self, I have over looked the incredible benefits that it has afforded my movement.  Turnout allows legs to reach new extensions and to beat in jumps.  It has taken years of training to avoid "lapsing into [my] original purely human state."  I am not insisting that I am a sort of cocky super-human dancer, but instead that my practice in dance has allowed my body to explore new "unhuman" states.

This article instantly made me consider something I had discussed in an earlier dance history class where we spent considerable time learning about the post-modern marvels that are the members of the Judson Theater group.  One member left Grahm's company to live in San Fransisco and eventually contribute to the group discussed that the reason she left was because she desired to feel human again.  Grahm responded that her company and others like hers were composed of dancers, not humans.  While I do not argue that the desire to feel like a human dancer is an invalid choice, I have personally never been interested in being human.  Identity, especially to a growing child, is given a special emphasis in society.  I always relished in saying that I was a dancer and I recall during the time that I stopped dancing as much as I previously had, I experienced a loss of identity.  To me, being a dancer was sometime entirely different from being a human.  While I explored human emotions and capabilities, dance was, as previously mentioned, a world of its own.  There is no place where I feel more alive than when I am on stage.  In this moment I disagree with Levinson; I am never a human until I am a dancer.  Perhaps my training has been "dehumanizing" but I feel true life for a few fleeting moments when I am on stage.

My experience at UCSD has been a positive one and I have loved learning about many new aspects of dance.  I have been exposed to a world of dance different than the one I am accustomed to, and for that I am grateful.  However, in such a modern-minded university, there is little emphasis on the art of performance that I loved so much as a young dancer.  This article was a beautiful reminder of all that I love about being a dancer and about the passion that I feel while I am on stage.  While it is a wonderful thing to be able to dance, this process, for me, is fulfilled while I am entering the "enchanted country" that is the theatre.  I hope that this post has allowed entry into my way of thought regarding dance.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Going Miniature

As of yesterday, my new obsession is miniature gardens.  There is nothing more exciting than the world of gardening and miniatures; the two combined is mind-boggling.  While this may not be the truth, I'm still obsessed.  Miniature gardens capture a fantasy that allow the viewer to appreciate the intricate details of design.  While life-size gardens are without a doubt beautiful and breathtaking, there is no denying the intrigue that miniatures inspire.  I was asked in my Lighting Practicum class to make a creation that uses light in an unconventional way.  Since I lack the knowledge and capabilities to do more than install batteries, I opted for single decorative lights that require a simple twist-on twist-off action.  I created my garden using fake mulch and flowers, pebbles, miniature shells, paint, small beads and string to create fireflies, and some simple wiring structures to make a flower lamp.  The first picture is of my project and the others are amazing little miniatures that I found.  Hello new summer craft!  Be on the look out for more creations.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Journey Though Photography (Artistic Collaborations with Rachel Estrada)

On my first photographic adventure, Rachel, Stephanie, and I experimented with the dystrophy and random arrangement of a construction site and the clean lines and contrast of black and gold dress items.  We used the surrounding elements as inspiration for our poses and a free standing lamp as our source of lighting.  Looking back, there is a lot that I would change and utilize, especially as far as lighting is concerned, but the naive experimentation produced photos that I could not replicate now if I tried.  When I look at these pictures, I feel as sense of misunderstanding that is derived from our intentional use of contrast. 

Another shoot Rachel and I did together was during a day of unpredictable weather in Malibu.  I was obsessing over the fantasy of the ocean, and though I did not plan it, the placement of these pictures indicates a forlorn nature of two girls exposing a beach of infinite, soft waves and foam and a developing storm.  I see a world where we become our surrounding elements, and in the first few pictures, I feel I am being lured by the seduction of the waves to a new world where I release my body and become the water.  Rachel demonstrates the vast mystery of the ocean while reflecting the combination of soft and sharp angles that can be found in the waves, shoreline, and horizon.  To remedy all of this artsy talk, I suggest you just enjoy the scenery in these pictures :)

Sleeps With ButterfliesOn another collaborative photo shoot Rachel and I used the symmetry, colors, and beauty of butterflies as our inspiration.  I wanted myself and the viewer to feel that they stumbled upon something intimate and private, yet ordinary and often overlooked.  While many people appreciate the aesthetic of nature, it is very rare that they stop to think of all of the activity that may be too small to see.  While an ant scurrying is very common, its task is its own and it is an individual amongst trillions.  However, every small movement effects our entire ecological system and we often forget to appreciate the beauty of the most ordinary of landscapes...

... I also feel like I've come across a mythical creature, something that only lives in the existence of our imaginations...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Master Class with Feldenkrais Somatic Methods

"The Feldenkrais Method is a form of somatic education that uses gentle movement and directed attention to improve movement and enhance human functioning. Through this Method, you can increase your ease and range of motion, improve your flexibility and coordination, and rediscover your innate capacity for graceful, efficient movement. These improvements will often generalize to enhance functioning in other aspects of your life." - Feldenkrais Website
Today I had a master class taught by a woman Ami who is training in the Feldenkrais Method and I thought it would be interesting to share my experience and observations.  I have only briefly been exposed to the ideas of Feldenkrais but I find them interesting even at their most basic level.  The idea behind Feldenkrais is to do as much as possible by using as little effort as possible by using the ideas of visualization, a deep understanding of one's own body, and exposure to ways of more effective movement.  Testimonials from people of all ages who have undergone Feldenkrais sessions are astounding if not unbelievable at times; it can help anyone from a young and fit athlete who is striving to excellence to an elderly person suffering from chronic pain.  In the instance of dance, both the visualization and effective movement techniques save one's body from injury and exhaustion.

One of the most interesting concepts is using the Feldenkrais technique in movement.  The idea of "core-distal" movement, or the idea that our limbs and head are connected to and extend from our center like a starfish, has helped me visualize and feel my center more accurately.  Understanding how our bodies are connected through tissues, joints, and bones makes movement more efficient.  For example, the pathway from standing to sitting can occur in many ways.  If we think of our pelvis simply dropping to the floor instead of using our thighs and squatting into a sit we are moving more efficiently.  The energy it takes to drop is more efficient than the body making a diagonal downwards.  

For a dancer trained in classical ballet and jazz, it has been a humbling experience to feel my body move in "simpler" ways by ridding of old movement habits and revealing a new range of moving.  While effective, the class I had today was exhausting.  My hips and legs used entirely new muscles as we worked our movement through visualizing our sit and pubic bones.  By continuously releasing the tension from my leg muscles, I found a deeper plie, or bend, and therefore a greater, more stable balance.  The most interesting thing Ami told us today was to think of our balance as a state of suspension instead of a stop or freeze where our muscles tighten and squeeze to hold a position.  Instead she encouraged us to envision an endless movement where we were constantly stabilized due to our deep plie and bodily alignment.   For the first time ever, I found I was confident in a position derived from a movement that originally felt chaotic; I found my center of balance without tensing my abdominal muscles, (in fact we didn't use our abs at all!)

Though brief, my experience with Feldenkrais has been refreshing and enlightening and I encourage all to look into the benefits and practices of the method.

"Find your true weakness and surrender to it. Therein lies the path to genius. Most people spend their lives using their strengths to overcome or cover up their weaknesses. Those few who use their strengths to incorporate their weaknesses, who don't divide themselves, those people are very rare. In any generation there are a few and they lead their generation."
- Moshe Feldenkrais

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Art and Adventure of Improv Dance

"I mean the idea that we have to be taught to dance is one of the minor insanities of this culture, I think. I think you might have to learn technique and you might have to learn to notice that you improvise and then at a certain point it's your responsibility both for the result but also for the process that gets you that result."
-Steve Paxton

This blog was written after my first improv performance as part of UCSD's WinterWorks 2010 Performance directed by Patricia Rincon. The piece was titled "Between May and Be" by Liam Clancey and was inspired by the post-modern dancer Steve Paxton's signature piece "Flat."

Improv Show #1

I have just gotten off stage from our first audience viewed structured improv; this performance has lead me to believe that I came to be a part of Liam's piece because I needed to learn, I needed to discover the process that could help me answer "how to let go." Each performance, or dance, or practice, was never the same. We started our process with a myriad of structure that consisted of walking in circles. I hated walking in circles. I would get bored and start singing to myself or even concoct a story or two. This idea of a structure sustains me, though, it stabilizes me in my everyday life. As a child, I loved rules. Rules allowed for a system of merit, judgement, and order. I understood the importance of law as a necessity from an extremely early age. In our piece, however, I found that having structure prevented me from doing anything. I would try to find my place in our pattern only to discover that I was lost. The rules that I once loved started to turn against me, I could no longer find stability that usually comforted me. As our ten weeks progressed, we started to strip away the structure- ten circle patterns became 6 which then became 2 and then finally only half. As the layers came off, I oddly started to make some sense of what we were doing. Initially, we started our understanding of the dance by asking a book of questions: how can you practice something that has no finite answer, or even a direction? do we need to do something in particular? how can we make a dance by not doing anything or doing something? if doing something is too much and doing nothing is too little, but only sometimes, how do we judge? However, we found no answer or solace in asking these questions and far less in the lack of answers. Time progressed and the questions lessened because we started to take an interest in the present. Our new focus became less about what we were supposed to do. Instead, we concentrated on what we were doing at every moment in time and allowing ourselves to be freed by what once seemed like an overwhelming plethora of choices. The significance in what we were doing immediately grew. Every option opened millions of doors but we as performers had the power to choose what door we entered; thus, we ruled our present. In this constant exploration, I truly realized and relished in this freedom from lack of constraint. Tonight, I was empowered on stage. I exerted control, but was also susceptible to the never ending stimuli and infinite environment. Tonight, I found freedom, and I also found part of myself. I fought through what I once wished to give up and found connections to others and the environment that I never knew existed. In my experience I found trust, the power of vulnerability, the limitations of rules, the sometimes murky result of clarification and specificity, confidence, fear, the imminent results of choice, and, at the risk of sounding tacky, myself. I found an experience that has defined my quarter and, begrudgingly yet humbly, my view on dance. I realized that I do not have to give up on my preferences to be a part of something different, and that practicing the art of letting go will help me detect future limitations that may prohibit my creative spirit. My journey, which continues after the performance on stage, has been shaped by ten other wonderful dancers/artists/explorers. It has truly been an honor to work with Christine, Paul, Johnny, Sharon, Lauren, Brooks, Marcos, Ilenia, Calvin, and Liam and to venture into the complex and terrifying art of improv. Thank you for an experience I almost didn't allow myself to take and one that I will never forget.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

So YOU Think You Can Dance? -A First Day Audition Guide

As an emerging dancer, I decided, as thousands of others do, to audition for Fox's hit reality show "So You Think You Can Dance?" I have been a less than casual follower of the show itself but admire the opportunity and exposure that it provides. My parents and most of my fellow dancers are devout viewers, but I find that watching it makes me anxious and critical. I want to be dancing, not watching. So I finally decided that I should see if I had a shot at being the one watched and I found that the audition experience was far from what I thought it would be and more than I hoped it could be.

The day started as one would expect: painfully early. I set my alarm for 4:00 am to leave by 5 and arrive in downtown Los Angeles at the Orpheum Theater by 6. My mom accompanied me for support. As she and I groggily rolled out of bed we reviewed what little we knew of the day ahead. We knew it was going to be long, the doors were to open at 8:00 am, and that there we were to prepare for 2 days of potential call backs. We found nothing else online via blogs and far less on Fox's website. All we could do was prepare to the best of our abilities and it is for this reason that I write this post; it is my sincere hope that this blog will help to better prepare future contestants for the first day of auditions.

Before attending the audition, I was told to choreograph a solo and have a cd with music cut and prepared for the judges. I assumed that this was going to be my audition process. However, for the first day/preliminary cuts, you do not even hear mention of the televised judges. It apparently takes about 1-2 days to perform your solo and see the judges, depending on how many times you are asked back. I arrived at the Orpheum Theater around 6:15 and had about 200 people in front of me. My mom and I threw down a blanket onto the uneven concrete and huddled together in the cold and dark morning to keep warm. We watched the sunrise in between the run down buildings and made casual chatter with the people around us. No one had auditioned before and none of us knew what to expect. For the next two hours, sporadic cheering and dance circles would break out as cameras from Access Hollywood, Fox, and ET would pass and conduct interviews. Kat Deeley was at the front of the line and conducted the interviews seen on tv, but the cameras did not ignore the rest of the long line. In fact, my mom had to constantly move to hide from them! She wasn't too keen on being a part of national television.

By 8:00 the sun was up and the line was extended by about 300 people. There was a definite impatience and tension in the air that hadn't existed earlier as we all anticipated the doors opening. However, we learned from crew members that the producer wasn't ready yet and that meals and parents would not be allowed inside. Both of these were a blow to me and my mom who had prepared a feast for the day, (I learned later that snacks were allowed, but salads and more substantial food were not permitted in the Theater). By 9:30 the line finally started moving and by 10 I was parting from my mom and being admitted to audition. I promised my mom I would call as soon as I had information so she would know when to drive back and pick me up, but soon after it was announced that phones were not to be used at all to uphold the integrity of the reality show process. Oh dang. This day was quickly running from mildly structured to chaos and uncertainty. (Another important side note for those who are auditioning, blankets, tents, pillows, etc. were not allowed in the theater and they had to be disposed of before entering. **Also, opened liquids or oils were discarded and prohibited. Make sure you remember that you will need to comply to the theater rules as well as the audition rules... I spent all day without a water bottle or drink.) Once everyone was off the street and seated in the theater, we were asked to do some shots for the camera and cheer. About 15 minutes after that, the producer Simon entered and gave us a briefing and pep talk. The audition was to be conducted as follows:
-We were going to be divided into groups of 10 based on style
-We would then have about 30 seconds to improv individually within our group to a randomly selected song
-We would then advance, be cut, or asked to stay for later.

Waiting for the audition was the worst part of the day. It was entertaining to meet such a diverse group of talented dancers but you didn't know when your section was going to be called so napping was rather difficult unless you were at the very end. Dancers were called in groups of 25-50 and sent to the smaller audition room. When that room cleared, the next group would enter. Each transition took about 45 minutes, but some took longer than others. We were told we would have time to stretch before hand but it was excruciating not to stretch or dance for such a prolonged period of time in anticipation. I waited about 3 hours and passed the time listening to music (which wasn't banned) and meeting people around me. I met people from all over the country and the atmosphere was surprisingly familial and fun. While I noticed that people would make comments, everyone was helpful and, again surprisingly, not snobby.

By the time my section was called, I had already warmed up and cooled down twice and had eaten only a handful of almonds and dried fruit. My group entered the audition room and waited about another 20 minutes while the others before us finished their audition. There was limited room and time to stretch or practice so I was glad I had started to stretch earlier. The producers would announce the upcoming genres and we would join a group of 10 when we were individually ready. Before dancing, it was a pleasure and an honor to see the talent surrounding me. The audition itself was really fun and we all supported each other with applause and cheers. The producer and 2 old top 20 dancers sat at a table and stared blankly ahead as every dancer had their 30 seconds to impress. Los Angeles was the last city and they had seen thousands of dancers prior to our day. Standing out was not only crucial but fatal. People were cut that I was sure would continue and people continued that I was sure would be cut. While watching everyone, it was important to remember that the judges were looking for a rang of people and you didn't know if they had someone just like you already. Truly, you had to stick out from the 1000s of other dancers. Based on my observation, 50% of the day's participants were cut. I finally danced at around 3:30 and was asked to stay until the end of the day. Luckily, I was allowed to leave and get food and I ate a power meal of carbs to give me energy for the rest of the night. There were about 50 people asked to stay and we got along in the same manner as before, except more exhausted. The second audition was the same as the first and happened at 8:30. In general, if you were asked to stay you had to go through 5 processes for the cameras in case you proceeded to Vegas. All of the filming was done on this first day. If you were cut you had to leave the theater and wait outside (if need be) for a ride.

If you were called back you were given a day and time for your next audition. The improv process and cuts would be made again before you advanced to the "real" judges. You would then be cut, asked to stay, or progress to Vegas.

Overall, I had an amazing time and it definitely was an experience. The dancers were great but the waiting took a toll on my overall health. By the time I danced I was exhausted and over-prepared. I think I would do this again, but not for a year or so... I know personally this whole day ordeal was a bit much for me. If you are considering auditioning I would recommend a few things:
-Bring unopened drinks and plentiful snacks
-Try not to exert all of your energy before the audition
-Bring something to do and a full MP3 player
-Remember that above all, this is a REALITY tv show... you might be a great dancer and be cut because you fill a certain genre that is already complete. While dancing is obviously a huge factor, so is personality and how the show can sell you and how you can sell yourself. Don't let others abilities intimidate you and work to your advantages (don't try to be a dancer that you aren't).
-Most importantly, have fun. That will transmit to your audience and help take off any pressure you may put on yourself.

Good luck!!! Maybe we will see each other on tv ;)